No major college football stadium is complete without a president's suite. There, amid creature comforts such as leather chairs and cable television, the school's chief executive schmoozes donors with gourmet grub and vintage spirits.

But from 1993-99, the president's box at Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium lacked one seemingly essential element: the president.

"I'd rather be on the sideline, even when it's cold and rainy," Paul Torgersen said. "It's a different game down there. The sounds are different, and you can't believe how fast it is. You miss some of that when you're up in the stands."

No climate control? No massaging boosters for their next seven-figure checks?

"No way," Torgersen said from Blacksburg, where he serves as the John Hancock Chair and Professor for the industrial and systems engineering department.

Torgersen, 77, became Tech's interim president in 1993 when his predecessor, James McComas, was diagnosed with colon cancer — McComas died the following year. A university employee since 1967, Torgersen later agreed to a five-year term and became a visible fixture at Hokies sports events, especially football.

But Torgersen deflects credit for one of the most critical decisions in Tech history: electing to retain Frank Beamer as football coach after a 2-8-1 finish in 1992 that included a season-ending, nine-game winless streak.

"That year there was some questions about keeping Coach Beamer on," Torgersen said. "McComas addressed those head-on and said we're going to keep the man. He had made that decision and the issue was closed before I became president.

"I'm amazed when people credit me with keeping Beamer. That wasn't my decision. McComas had made that decision, and it was a very wise one."

But Torgersen, a scholarship tennis player at Lehigh, confronted other athletics issues, most visibly during Virginia Tech's contentious departure from the Metro Conference in 1995. He participated rigorously in an arbitration that netted the school $1 million.

Dave Braine, the Hokies' athletic director from 1988-97, called Torgersen "unique, the only man I've ever worked with, for, around that is so well-respected by the faculty, so well-respected by the students and yet has a great understanding of what it takes to be successful athletically."

Since retired to Blacksburg, Braine left Virginia Tech for Georgia Tech in late 1997. Torgersen then approved the hiring of Jim Weaver, who has overseen unprecedented upgrades in the school's athletic facilities.

Weaver came to Virginia Tech from Western Michigan and found an instant ally in the president's office. For example, Torgersen was quick to approve formation of a committee to study the feasibility of expanding Lane Stadium.

"Dr. Torgersen was a college athlete himself," Weaver said, "and well in advance of my coming to Virginia Tech had been so supportive of the enterprise of intercollegiate athletics."

When Virginia Tech's Board of Visitors selected Charles Steger to succeed Torgersen, the two agreed that the formal transition would occur Jan. 1, 2000. But the football team went undefeated in 1999 to earn a place in the national championship game, set for Jan. 4 at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

"I got back to Charles Steger and said, 'Charles we're going to delay the transition one more week because I'm going to New Orleans as president of the university.' " Torgersen said with a laugh.

Torgersen was ubiquitous in the Big Easy, and six days before the game, he and associate athletic director Sharon McCloskey staged a field-goal kicking contest at the Hokies' practice. Using a square-toed shoe, Torgersen connected, albeit barely, from 25 yards.

"I won that (competition) hands down," Torgersen said, laughing at the memory.

The same fall that Torgersen took over, Tech began a streak of bowl appearances that is 16 and counting. He jokingly takes credit for the run, exceeded only by Florida and Florida State.

An avid golfer, Torgersen recently battled throat cancer. Now cancer free, he still attends every home football game, and some on the road.

When Torgersen arrived at Virginia Tech 42 years ago, Lane Stadium was open but still under construction. Capacity was 40,000, amenities minimal.

Today, Lane seats 66,233 and boasts the requisite bells and whistles.

"I never could have imagined (the upgrades)," Torgersen said. "Nor could I have imagined it being packed and sold out every year."

Torgersen and his wife visited family in New Jersey this summer, and when the valet at the hotel noticed the "VT" sticker on the couple's car, he bellowed a "Go Hokies."

"You get that recognition with athletics and more specifically with football." Torgersen said. "I've been tied up with the engineering college now for more than 40 years, and you don't get 'Go Hokies' for engineering, even though we have an incredibly good engineering program. That's what athletics does for you."

Being a past president has its perks, too, including a football sideline pass.